The Author’s Corner With Andrew Lipman

LipmanAndrew Lipman is Assistant Professor of History at Barnard College–Columbia University.  This interview is based on his new book The Saltwater Frontier: Indians and the Contest for the American Coast (Yale University Press, 2015).

: What led you to write The Saltwater Frontier?

AL: I grew up in New England and was always curious about the region’s past. But the book itself can be traced to a “perfect storm” of intellectual influences that converged when I was an undergrad. At Vassar College, several professors showed me that history was a creative and literary discipline. I also spent a semester at the Maritime Studies Program of Mystic Seaport and Williams College, which was a profoundly interdisciplinary and hands-on semester focused on humans’ relationship with the ocean. Visiting the nearby Pequot Museum further sparked my interest in the region’s deeper indigenous history. As I started my graduate work at Penn, I realized there was a connected story of the whole coast from the Hudson River to Cape Cod that needed telling. 

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Saltwater Frontier?

AL: The encounter between Native people and English and Dutch colonists in the seventeenth century Northeast was a contest over the coast and the sea. Foregrounding literal saltwater and Atlantic geopolitics, the book examines the overlooked naval dimensions of colonial-Native conflicts, presents a revised narrative of how the Anglo-Dutch rivalry drove each colony’s development, and offers a new explanation for indigenous survival along this coast.

JF: Why do we need to read The Saltwater Frontier?

AL: Because it unveils a regional story that has been hiding in plain view. The Anglo-Dutch borderland was both the earliest and the densest site of imperial overlap on the continent—at no other place in North America did two rival colonies place so many villages, forts, and trading posts so close together.  

Because it is at once a frontier history and an environmental history. The European invasion was shaped not just by the decisions of indigenous and colonial leaders, but also by the shore itself. The geology of the coast presented a distinct set of logistical challenges during war and peace. And many marine species—especially shellfish and whales—were transformed into commodities that bound Native and colonial economies together.

Because American Indian history does not stop at the water’s edge. Too often historians act as though the continental and Atlantic approaches to early America are opposing and irreconcilable. I believe that histories of maritime Native people can unite these bodies of scholarship in surprising ways.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

AL: It was definitely when I was a history major in college. Classes on all topics from the environmental history of the American West to pre-colonial Africa to modern Russia really deepened my sense of perspective and gave me a more nuanced and complex worldview. Soon I was hooked on the idea that maybe I could teach, read, and write history for a living.

JF: What is your next project?

AL: I’m working on a couple articles and a second book about the life and legend of the Wampanoag man best known as Tisquantum or Squanto. The working title is Squanto: A Native Odyssey.

JF: Thanks, Andrew!